Sunday, 14 April 2013

An ANZAC Tribute written by Simon Young



With ANZAC Day approaching, I thought I would share an article I wrote regarding my Great Uncle Percy. Uncle Percy served in the First World War. Like thousands of others, he was just an ordinary soldier, killed in action with the end of the war almost in sight. This article is not just a tribute to him, but to the tens of thousands of extraordinary young men, who suffered so much so we might have the freedom we enjoy today.



Native of Runnymede, Tasmania

WHEN I was a young boy, my grandmother spoke often about her brother Percy who was killed in France during the Great War. Back then, my head was too full of other mischief to want to know much more than this. But later in life, I did want to know more. After all, he had died for his country. My grandmother had passed on, and I regretted not having asked her the many questions that have plagued me ever since.

So I spent a number of years piecing together as much information as I could about my Great Uncle Percy. It was slow work, until web based search engines became available. But Service Records and the like are not enough. You need to fill in the gaps by studying the history of the Great War, and tracking the activities of particular units. I did all this, and finally, I made the trip to France, 90 years after Percy’s death, to pay my respects.

He was born Percival Vernon Henry Sutton in September 1890, the 10th of 12 children, my grandmother, Dorothy, was the youngest. Their parents, George and Elizabeth Sutton, lived in the picturesque Richmond area in Tasmania, although Percy’s attestation papers suggest he was “Native of Runnymede”. I know that Percy became a farm labourer, quite possibly working around the Richmond district at a very young age.

When war broke out in Europe, Percy joined the 12th Battalion, ironically on the 12th day of the 12th month 1914, the first of several date coincidences.  The 12th Battalion, formed at Pontville, became an iconic Tasmanian Battalion. My Grandfather, Alf Blacklow, and his brother, my Great Uncle Edward, also served with the 12th.

Percy began his war experience at Gallipoli on 5 May 1915. He was in the line on 19 May, when the Turks charged the ANZACS in a suicidal attempt to drive the infidels into the sea. He survived the next two months without injury, but in the appalling conditions, fell victim to enteric fever (typhoid) in late July. He was evacuated to Heliopolis, and ultimately hospitalised in Cairo. His recovery was slow, and he was eventually sent back to Australia to convalesce – on the 12th day of the 12th month 1915.

Percy rejoined his Battalion in the field on 23 Sep 1916. His 3rd Brigade was resting north in Flanders following two draining attacks at Pozieres in late July. They would move south again in October and experience the coldest winter in 50 years. In early spring 1917, Percy was hospitalised with mumps, and he did not rejoin his Battalion until 23 April 1917. He had exactly 12 months of his short life remaining. His Battalion went into the line at 2nd Bullecourt less than 2 weeks later. They were bombed ferociously. Some say that the barrage was a cruel as anything at Pozieres. Only 200 men from the 11th and 12th Battalion remained unwounded.

In August, Percy suffered an injury to his left arm requiring treatment and convalescence in Britain. He did not rejoin his Battalion again until January 1918.

During the period 12 to 24 April 1918, the Battalion was operating around Armentieres in what was to become known as the Battle of Lys. The German Army had launched a massive spring offensive catching the allies off guard all along the line. On 23 April, units from the 11th and 12th Battalions were working in tandem to try and dislodge a series of German machine guns and trench mortars from the village of Meteren. It’s likely that Percy’s unit was approaching the village from the western end when they came under heavy fire. Uncle Percy was killed during this action, thus ending three and a half years of illness, injury, misery and fear.

Today Uncle Percy lies in Meteren Military Cemetery, a “quiet corner”, not far from the Belgium border. The cemetery is immaculate in every respect, and sits on a slight rise overlooking the beautiful rolling hills of northern France. There are lots of 12th Battalion boys buried here, many of them killed on the same day as Percy. I’d like to go back there one day, take a couple of beers and have a bit of a chat. Until then, rest well Uncle Percy, Native of Runnymede.


By SIMON YOUNG
 

3 comments :

  1. What a wonderful piece and wouldn't your Great Uncle Percy be proud of you.

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  2. This is wonderful! I am currently researching and writing about local WW1 soldiers (mainly Runnymede, Buckland, Orford and Triabunna in Tasmania). I am collating stories, family photos, diaries or letters. Your Percy is one of my "boys". However your grandmother Dot stars in another chapter as well. I'd love to talk to you some time!
    Fran Read
    fread@southcom.com.au

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    Replies
    1. I will pass on your details to the author - he'll be thrilled.

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